THERE are some people who have never taken an HIV test due to fear that the results may not remain confidential.
In the past, HIV testing was done at health facilities, however, today the test can be done in the comfort of your privacy. Mr Simon Faro, an activist in the HIV field, agrees that some people shunned testing at a clinic and the new home-testing kits also known as HIV-self testing kits have changed many people’s attitudes.
“The self-testing HIV kits have revolutionised uptake and I can affirm that many people now are comfortable of having the tests in private. As you know, we live in communities and some people found testing at clinics in their home area not ideal,” said Mr Faro.
“This was due to stigma as HIV is viewed by some people to be a condition for those of loose morals,” he added. Mr Faro said the move was a relief as more people would get to know their HIV status. “I can assure you that more people will get tested and seek treatment,” said Mr Faro. The United Nations in 2013 set out an ambitious project dubbed the 90-90-90. The noble project has had positive results and has seen the rate on new infections going down.
The idea is that by 2020, 90 percent of people who are HIV infected will be diagnosed, 90 percent of people who would have tested HIV positive will be on anti-retroviral treatment, while 90 percent of those who receive anti-retroviral drugs would have the HIV virus suppressed. By 2030, the world is believed to come to an end of the epidemic if all envisioned pillars add up.
With this grand project barriers were identified and HIV testing is one of them. Speaking to a group of university students who had never undergone HIV testing, it emerged that they did not like the idea that someone got to know of their results.
“I will never get tested at our local clinic. The nurses live in the community and I feel people being people, my results would be made public whether I was negative or positive. So, for me testing at the local clinic is a no and never,” said the first student.
His friend chipped in and said he welcomed the advent of self-testing.
“HIV has a lot of stigma, so the advent of self-testing is a relief as I can test in private. I can then decide to visit my doctor and this gives me a choice.
“I will never undergo an HIV test in a public facility,” said the second student who also requested anonymity.
On the third 90, the UN said it would be ideal to have 90 percent of the people receiving ART no longer passing on the virus if they engaged in unprotected sex. This was possible as a result that the HIV virus was suppressed to levels which meant that the virus was no longer passed to the next person.
“Viral suppression is when a person’s viral load or the amount of virus in an HIV-positive person’s blood is reduced to an undetectable level,” said a nurse with a local clinic. Self-testing, or “home testing” has changed the attitudes of many who shunned clinic testing in the past. “HIV self-testing is a process in which an individual willing to know his/her HIV status performs a test and interprets the result by him or herself, often in private,” said the nurse.
“Stigma has become a major reason HIV epidemic continues and millions of people are getting infected and dying from HIV-related diseases every year.”
Stigma is degrading and it discredits a person of their once held dignity. When this occurs a person may internalise the stigma and end up withdrawing from the society or even stop taking medication. “The moment stigma affects an individual they may stop taking medication,” said the nurse.
Years back, leprosy faced a lot of stigma and those affected by it were quarantined. “People who are HIV positive are often shunned in society as they are blamed for having acquired the virus from promiscuous behaviour. So you find that not many people are open about their status. They would rather remain quiet to a point of not even disclosing their status to a spouse in some instances,” said the nurse.
WHO essential medicines and health products director Dr Suzanne Hill said countries with poor laboratory infrastructure would be able to safely increase their testing capacity. The organisation believes that by giving people the opportunity to test discreetly, HIV self-testing may increase the uptake of HIV testing among people who have never taken the test.
Zimbabwe stands to gain a lot from HIV self-testing.